‘Horrific images’ Expert pinpoints risk facing children exposed to Ukraine war on TikTok

Russian state outlets 'contributing to Ukraine war' says Krichevskaya

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As Russia’s invasion enters a second month, images and stories continue to be circulated – and this could result in “secondary trauma” for youngsters.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott warned of the impacts of unedited images and videos online – but explained how parents can help reduce the toll on their children’s mental health.

Speaking about war-related social media posts, Mr McDermott told Express.co.uk: “It’s all on TikTok. We’re seeing all these unedited pictures and people are posting these images, particularly of bodies.

“People posting them may not understand the psychological impact of this horrific imagery.”

The expert said that seeing the disturbing posts shared online can cause the viewer to experience post-trauma symptoms.

He said: “We’re in a highly stressful situation which is somehow connected to life or death and can trigger our body’s stress response, and it doesn’t have to be our own life or death.”

Mr McDermott explained how just simply witnessing the events through a screen can cause trauma-like responses in both children and adults.

He added: “When people are posting these images online, they’re probably not aware of the impacts, particularly on kids who may not be able to cognitively defend themselves.

“But even adults will be impacted. If you aggressively scroll through social media and see these images of mangled bodies, you’re going to cause psychological damage to yourself at some point.”

He said “secondary traumatisation” can happen to anybody and to reduce the effects it is important to be thoughtful about what you are exposing yourself to on social media.

Secondary trauma can cause the person suffering to experience nightmares, intrusive memories, anxiety and anger among other symptoms.

Mr McDermott, who has extensively researched the impacts of existential threats on human mental health, said it is important to talk with children about the conflict.

He said: “We need to make sure we are talking regularly with our children.

“In this world, if your child has access to the internet, then they have access to what is going on in Ukraine. You have to assume they are getting information and be proactive in how you process that information with them.

“It is important to sit down on a regular basis with your children and discuss what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing online.”

Mr McDermott said the best thing to do is not to overreact and to give children “a sounding board” so they can emotionally process what is going on in Ukraine.

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He said parents could help their children by “affirming their experiences and telling them what they’re feeling is okay is”.

He added: “What you really want to be doing is this emotional processing, where you are validating your child’s sense of fear, anger, despair and loss and not telling them it’s wrong to feel that stuff.

“It is absolutely right to feel that way and the more we can share how we are feeling with another person, the better.”

A spokesperson for TikTok confirmed that the company’s community guidelines do not allow content that is “gratuitously shocking, graphic, sadistic, or gruesome or that promotes, normalises, or glorifies extreme violence or suffering” on the platform. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, TikTok has also added more resources to moderate content related to the war including misinformation, hate speech and graphic content.

Twitter was also contacted for a comment. 

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